Oracle of Kronos: PGM IV. 3086–3124

Ever since I had forged my daimon pact through PGM VII. 505–28, I found my existing love and appreciation for the papyri become even more enflamed. My list of rituals to accomplish had more than doubled, coming to encompass a number of more complicated rites, my mind being at ease with my daimon’s assurances that he could arrange for all the necessary materia requirements without resulting in me breaking any budgets. While I am in no way averse to substitution, especially when the workarounds are orchestrated by the spirits themselves (and naturally, confirmed with cunning and insightful divinatory inquiries), I have often found a special thrill and excitement in carrying out older spells as they were written. My spirits have often noted that there are pacts forged at every step of a working’s channeling, with the powers that are drawn upon, anchored, and payed homage to through each ingredient often being far more complicated and nuanced than one would first assume, largely being the dominion of the privacy and secrecy of the ruling spirits of the working themselves. It is ultimately a sorcerer’s wit that will guide them in reading between the lines of received grimoires and rites, consulting with their spirits on matters such as what is superfluous or merely an artefact of the time, what marks a power’s presence and must be included, what can be summoned spiritually through existing alliances within one’s own court to stand in the place of the material, and which elements provide an initiation unto themselves simply by being gathered, alerting the watchers of the rite to the sincerity of the seeker of mysteries.

One of the most crucial lessons my patrons have ever taught me when it comes to magic is to always remain level-headed, curious, flexible, and diligent. To live tradition is to carry it forward into the incarnated times in which one lives; not to be a servant of its artefacts. At the same time, to disregard the pacts our ancestors had already made on our behalf, including the ancestors of sorcery itself—those who penned down the rituals we consult and seek to reenact, or who forged the first agreements with certain spirits and how they would consent to manifesting and arriving when called in the future—is to extinguish personal ambition with bitterness and arrogance. While I have always pursued magic’s manifestations and miracles for the consistent delights they have conferred upon my life, I find that in my heart I love the art for its own sake. That so much is possible, that so much folklore is true, and that so many spirits exist to consult with, learn under, and stretch the limits of our perception and cognition with will never fail to fill me with absolute glee.

In some cases, procuring certain items is in and of itself a significant part of the journey, in others, they flag important powers that must be noted and given their due in order for the requested spirits to manifest in the way the ritual assures they will. To love Mystery, what is hidden, occulted, and what in some cases may never be known to the magician, being the knowledge only certain spirits have the license to witness and bear, is also to allow for adventure in every step of the sorcerous process. A long-standing agreement I have with a few specialized familiars, combined with the work of the 2nd Pentacle of Mercury (which brings things “contrary unto the order of Nature”, that is to say, including that which is improbable or rare, or to make what is expensive cheap, etc.), is to open the roads to procuring rare materia for future experiments. In some cases, this manifests as unexpected windfalls of money to purchase what I need, in others, in the form of sudden connections with those who either themselves are able to obtain them for me, or know someone else who could. On this front, my new daimon was eager to join in, encouraging me to pursue other workings from the late antique Mediterranean period, both from within the PGM collection and beyond, with the assurance that he would open the way forward so to carry them out precisely.

At the top of my list was PGM IV. 3086–3124, the title of which is given as the Oracle of Kronos. This ritual had captivated my fascination for almost a year now, ever since another spirit of mine pointed out its remarkable qualities to me. Its intended outcome is to call forth the god Kronos, who, once manifested, may reveal the answer to any question. While the Oracle may certainly then be consulted as a purely divinatory ritual, it was made clear to me by my spirit that there is nothing which suggests the “questions” posed must strictly concern themselves with such matters. Instead, one may presumably petition the god in the same fashion, requesting knowledge, rituals, secrets, mysteries, ways to access particular powers and familiar spirits, and so on, as is the case for most rituals in the PGM intended to compel or conjure a deity to appear. I sat in discussion with my spirits to determine the list of questions and petitions to put forward some time ago, and immediately set out to recreate its instructions.

An image of the rite as it appears in Betz, p. 98.

The ritual involves going out to a place “where grass grows” at night and grinding salt in a handmill, speaking a formula until the god arrives. His manifestation is said to be heralded by the clattering of iron chains and the sound of heavy steps. The magician should be clothed with “clean linen in the garb of a priest of Isis”, and have prepared an offering of sage, the heart of a cat, and horse manure to burn. Additionally, a phylactery must be made and held on the person for the purpose of protecting oneself from the god, subduing him when he “appears threateningly”, and compelling him to provide the answers to the questions given, while similarly chanting another formula. The phylactery in question is to be made out of the rib of either a young pig (presumably one which has not reached sexual maturity) or a “black, scaly, castrated boar”. The rib is to be carved with the inscription “CHTHOUMILON” and the image of Zeus holding a sickle.

There are a few things to note from the outset. Firstly, it is clear that the conjuration conflates Kronos with his own father, Ouranos, given the reference to him as a “hermaphrodite” upon “whom the transgression was committed by [his] own son”—a reference to Kronos severing Ouranos’ genitals with a sickle (making him actually a eunuch, not a hermaphrodite), which resulted in the birth of Aphrodite as well as the Furies. The ritual itself is clearly coercive, with the incense offering being particularly foul-smelling (horse manure and a cat’s heart with sage), and the very act of grinding salt over grass which grows, rendering the land infertile, being a clear transgression against a patron of agriculture. There is a formula to further compel the god once he arrives, in order to subdue him in case he “appears threateningly”, as well as a phylactery of Zeus to protect the sorcerer, allowing them to take on the divine mask of Kronos’ son to threaten him with not only his banishment to Tartarus, but with the same fate he dealt his own father. That the phylactery is made of a piglet’s rib may be to evoke the imagery of a scythe (in the image, wielded by Zeus, but also of course being a typical symbol of Kronos as a castrator, with his depictions frequently wielding a curved harvesting blade), while also drawing on the common sacrifice of young pigs as offerings to chthonic deities in late antiquity. The presence of the cat’s heart is also evocative of the conflation and syncretism of Kronos and Chronos, saturnine associations of time and longevity, and the lion-headed Mithraic Aion.

My spirits had given me much fruit for thought with their commentary as to what kind of theophany might appear from this conjuration. They recommended only changing the line “you hermaphrodite” to “you eunuch”, given the reference to Ouranos’ castration, but proceeding with the rest of the ritual as is. Naturally, my first order of business was to take inventory of what I already had in stock. Regarding the “garb of a priest of Isis”, I thankfully already had a white linen robe on hand for ritual use that I had fumigated with frankincense and myrrh. Similarly, I keep a stock of Dead Sea salt, as well as Greek sage, so I could write those two off the list. This left me with the cat’s heart, the horse manure, and the pig’s rib phylactery.

Key’s invaluable expertise with biochemistry came to my rescue with the matter of the heart. Initially, he kindly offered to place an order with his laboratory where he works for a cat to dissect, and to quite literally obtain the heart for me directly. I decided that this would be our last resort, assuming I could not find just a heart alone to buy elsewhere online. Thankfully, after consulting with one of my aforementioned treasure hunting spirits (whom I primarily at this point employ for assistance in obtaining materia and rare books), a taxidermy shop I frequent suddenly procured a cat’s heart preserved in formalin as a wet specimen, and I purchased it immediately. And yet, Key still managed to save the day regardless! I set the shipping address to his apartment, and once he received it, he treated the heart of the formalin in his lab, ensuring it would be safe to burn as incense when the time comes to give the offering. My biggest thanks as always to him for the crucial help!

I reckoned that the virtue of the horse manure in the offering lies in its foul smell, being coercive in nature. For this reason, I briefly entertained the idea of swapping this component for powdered sulfur, but ultimately decided to at the very least include it in some form while also offering one of my fouler-smelling Saturnine incenses, which contains sulfur in the recipe. I made my way to a small urban farm that is open to pedestrians, slipped away and collected a small amount of the manure, and returned promptly home. I always carry some extra plastic bags, a pair of gloves, and a Sharpie on me in my backpack full of talismans for materia collection, and I have to say that this smelly experience was not even within the top ten least pleasant things I’ve had to grab for magic. Witchcraft and Quimbanda alike have certainly provided the rest.

Finally, I was down to the matter of the pig’s rib. I decided that it would be far easier to obtain that of a young pig’s than a “black, scaly, castrated boar”, and placed an order for a rack of ribs from a suckling pig at a local butcher. I gave the meat itself as an offering to my spirits (as a vegetarian all meat I buy tends to go to spirits and friends) and treated the bones. Once I had an image of Zeus and the name of power to my liking, I lacquered it with clear nail polish to preserve the bone from cracking. In the meanwhile, my friend Alison of Practical Occult had also procured a similar set of piglet ribs, and graciously sent me one of the extras that she was distributing. This meant that, should everything work the way I’d hope, I would be able to mail out the additional leftover ribs to any friend who was hoping to carry out the ritual as well—assuming my other spirits didn’t claim them for their own devices and talismans first.

For the ritual itself, I decided to wait for the nighttime Saturn hour on a Saturday my spirits recommended. I scouted out the location “where the grass grows” ahead of time, placating the spirits of the land ahead of time, and letting them know that I would be grinding salt over the field until the deity manifests, making the appropriate offerings in advance. When the time came, I filled up my bag with the incense, phylactery, salt and mill (in my case, a mortar and pestle), charcoal and a brazier, a lighter, and one glass-encased candle so that I could see in the dark, and headed for the ravine.

By the time I arrived on location, it was a little past 10:30pm, right at the Saturn hour. I had already dressed in my ritual linen robe at home, wearing a plain white skirt and tank top underneath, and had marched over to the forest with no one seeing me on the way there. I set up the brazier and charcoal, lit the candle, and took out my ritual script (a printed scan of the rite as it appears in Betz), checked in with my spirits one more time, and proceeded with the call.

While I’ve never been scared of the dark, even as a child, I found myself feeling strangely anxious as I began the process. At first, I lit the charcoal and began to recite the prayer, entirely forgetting in my eagerness (and sudden onset of uncharacteristic nervousness!) to grind the salt itself—the key component of the ritual! I quickly came to my senses and managed to laugh at myself for a moment, filling my mortar with the salt, and started again, roughly pounding and grinding it with the pestle on its side to continue to spill the contents over the grass. I then continued repeating the prayer until, after the third time, the atmosphere in the darkness of the forest became completely eclipsed by a sudden, encroaching, swelling presence.

I have to emphasize again that I am not at all an easily-frightened person. Among my close friends my reputation for being incredibly difficult to startle is something of a meme, with many having attempted and failed to jump-scare me with various websites and videos. I’ve always enjoyed horror movies—the more unsettling, the better—and no amount of gore or tension has been able to truly unnerve me on an emotional level. If anything, being spooked by a physical manifestation or a spirit pulling a prank or trying to get my attention has only ever excited me. Yet, in that moment, it was as if my veins were filled with ice, my body entirely immobile, and my ears and eyes strained to their peak, staring blindly into the forest, mind absolutely awash with an overwhelming pressure and dread. I seized the phylactery in my lap and held it until my knuckles were white, willing my psychic perception to open further in order to catch even a potential glimpse of what it was that was approaching.

It was then that I heard it—not with my spiritual senses, but with my physical ears—the loud, slow, thumping of heavy footsteps, each movement followed by the piercing, clattering of chains. Words cannot express how genuinely shocked I was at the sheer noise and physicality of this manifestation! I instantly placed the cat heart over the charcoal and watched it quickly roast, adding then the horse manure (I nearly gagged from the smell at this point) and the merciful relief of the Greek sage which made the fumes at least tolerable. After a battery of steps and rattling, each louder than the last, I finally saw in my plain vision a massive, void-like stretch of black, blotting out even the regular darkness of the nighttime ravine, obscuring the outline of the trees I was able to make out by candlelight and my adjusted vision, extending to tower over me even unto the heavens. In my spirit sight, I was able to make out a titanic, hooded figure, features proud yet sunken, beard neat and elegant and yet frayed with time, joints bulbous and rough against stretched, thin skin which showed still the musculature and strength of an aging king. The passage of aeons had folded their paper-scarred weight into the wrinkles of his skin, yet the eyes which seared with flame and fervour—two lone stars in the sky his form had stripped of dimension—gazed down with cold eternity.

The proceedings of our interaction, and the petitions and inquiries I made, are not something I am able to retell publicly. Yet, suffice to say, the intense, passive aura of dread persisted throughout, and at one point the clattering of chains was so loud and the noise so disorienting that I wondered if I was happened upon by some poor nighttime hiker or a large animal—though there was no one there, not even a single forest spirit that I could detect, but me and the presence. I ended up using the compulsion formula when the sensation of fear was close to its peak, not only because I was sweating and gripping my phylactery so hard I worried any more and I might snap it, but because if there’s one thing I’ve learned across all the traditions I hold initiation in, it’s never to allow pride to supplant the practicality of protection formulas. It was not that I felt that I was going to be harmed, more that I decided I needed to do something about the way the feelings of dread were clouding my perception. I wanted to be as calm, articulate, and forward-thinking with the way I communicated my requests, and have the mental bandwidth to respond appropriately and with intelligently. Thankfully, the formula was truly effective, decreasing the aura that surrounded me significantly as it appeared to slink back like a shadow to where I felt the presence. While the tension was no less high, I was able to breathe and speak normally from then on, much to my satisfaction.

Once I had completed my work, and I received confirmation of my requests having been accepted, the answers I sought being given, and the familiar I asked for having been given unto me—with the name and abilities given and attested to, and the requisite oaths of loyalty sworn—I gave the license to depart and prayed for peace between us. Across various conjurations, especially grimoiric and necromantic ones, I have generally found that as soon as the license to depart is given, the spirit simply disperses or vanishes from my presence, leaving me back to my own devices within the ritual space. Yet here, I found myself mesmerized as the presence did not vanish at once, rather retreated the same way it came—with slow, heavy, receding footsteps slinking back into the woods, each step sinking lower and lower into the chthonic soil, accompanied by the clattering of the fetters and chains. I knelt, transfixed by the overpowering, physical sensation of the deific force quite literally walking away, until at last I could see the moon and stars, and feel the spirits of the forest and earth crawl back into their homes.

Suddenly, the time dawned on me, and I quickly gathered my things back into my bag, left the offering and brazier where it was, and scampered back home. I must have been quite the sight, should anyone have noticed me, running with an oversized book bag in a large white robe down the street and back to my neighbourhood! Once I was home, I enshrined the phylactery, which was now the physical token of the pact with the Saturnine daimon, made offerings to my spirits for their protection and guidance, and finally was able to rest.

I am truly beyond thrilled with how the entire rite proceeded. Acquiring all the materia for it was well worth the effort, and the divinatory answers I received have been nothing short of cosmically illuminating. One of the petitions I requested manifested instantly (in the very same Saturn hour!) in the first stage of its plan, being perhaps one of the fastest turnarounds I have ever seen. As for the new pact, forged so I could seek similar counsel when needed in a more personal capacity and flavour, among other reasons, all the powers involved have been integrating exceptionally smoothly and well. I had Key quickly scry the phylactery without telling him any details, as his psychic perception and spirit faculties have been trained diligently over the last year to become some of the most keen I have seen, and he was able to nail precisely the nature of the pact, its presence, and an array of subtler information I had been interested to test for. Ever since his most recent initiatory experience when I had last visited him in the States, his abilities have been so laser-precise and wide in scope, without faltering through any emotional or mental struggles, I have been all the more excited to resume our weekly training and practice on scrying, and checking each other’s materia and tools has been one such excellent way to do so. Suffice to say, this operation was far more successful than I had even hoped for, and I am so pleased to report that its manifestations are exactly as physical as the ritual instructions imply.

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